11 ghost towns to see before they’re completely gone

Reminders of the past from across the country
Ireland's Eye. (Pete Ryan/Getty)

From coast to coast to coast, Canada is dotted by ghost towns, vacant testimony to our pioneering spirit and to dashed dreams. Many of their structures still stand, though in derelict condition, offering visitors haunting, often picturesque glimpses of the Canadian past.

1. Giant Mine Town Site, located four kilometres north of Yellowknife, once housed the workers from the Giant Mine gold mine, which ceased operation in 2004. It was the site of a deadly bombing during a labour dispute that killed nine replacement workers in 1992, and is currently an environmental concern due to arsenic tailings. Visitors (who must seek permission to explore the site) can walk among abandoned houses, barracks and disused playgrounds. UPDATE: The Giant Mine townsite has been closed to the public since 2005. The buildings in the townsite are in various states of disrepair and therefore due to health and safety concerns, public access is not permitted.

2. CFB Rivers, 29 km northwest of Brandon, Man., still looks much as it did during its Second World War heyday—its massive airplane hangars still stand, as does the old steam plant that provided heat for all its buildings across 3,200 acres—but it closed in 1971.

3. Rowley, a 40-minute drive north from Drumheller, Alta., has two grain elevators still standing, some storefronts and the a stalwarts still residing there.

4. Robsart, in Saskatchewan’s southwest corner (Medicine Hat, Alta., 125 km away, is the closest large town) prospered as a farming community in the early 20th century, only to wither with the dust-bowl droughts of the Dirty ’30s. Though a handful of people remain today, it is known for its disintegrating storefronts, the shell of a hospital and a diner counter no one has eaten at in decades.

5. Phoenix, B.C., deep in the Interior and a 15-minute drive east from Greenwood, was once a bustling copper-mining hub of 5,000 people with a hockey team that only narrowly missed competing for the Stanley Cup. All that’s left today is a cenotaph commemorating the First World War—an irony given it was slumping copper prices at the end of that war that killed the town.

6. Lille, in the Crowsnest Pass region of southwest Alberta, was established as a small coal-mining town in 1903 but died out less than a decade later with the collapse of the coke industry. Today visitors must hike or drive all-terrain vehicles in to see what remains: a fire hydrant amid the mountains, the coke ovens, and the cemetery.

7. Horod, Man., 21?2 hours north of Brandon, is an extremely well-preserved farm town. Like many of its kind, the town pretty much dried up several decades ago, with a schoolhouse, a “teacherage” (where the schoolteacher lived), a store and a Ukrainian church.

8. Nicholson, Ont., 300 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, is accessible only by boat or on foot over the railway tracks, a 21?2-hour walk. That remoteness has helped preserve much of the deserted lumber town, which was hopping in the first decades of the 20th century. Today many of the homes still stand, the roads are still etched into the wilderness, there are jumbles of equipment and the ruins of a church and school. A haunting place.

9. Allans Mills, just west of Perth, Ont., was a milling hamlet that in the 1870s hosted a post office, a general store and a blacksmith. It went into decline and shut down almost completely in the 1970s. Yet many of its buildings survive, including the mill owner’s stately home, and a mysterious structure by the cemetery. A handful of people live here, with the mill now a private home.

10. Val-Jalbert, 80 km west of Chicoutimi, Que., in the Sague- nay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, was a thriving mill town until 1927, when the mill closed and the townsfolk disappeared. Today some claim Val-Jalbert is the best preserved ghost town in Canada, with many old homes still standing in a derelict condition, and the ruin of an old paper mill beside the waterfall that powered it.

11. Ireland’s Eye, at just 94 km northwest of St. John’s, Nfld., on Trinity Bay, is still a remote place, accessible only by boat. Estab- lished in the 1880s, it was decom- missioned in the 1960s. But a number of structures still stand there, including a church and a few homes. The shambles of an old fishing village proved the perfect place for gangsters to deposit incoming shipments of drugs in the 1980s, at least for a while. The scheme led convicted crime boss Vito Rizzuto to appear in a St. John’s courthouse, where he was acquitted on a technicality.

Sources: Interviews with ghost town aficionados Johnnie Bachusky of Red Deer, alta., Jeri Danyleyko of Toronto and Ron Brown, also of Toronto.
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